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[personal profile] arf_she_said
I wish I had more time this week to talk about Dog Day Afternoon, one of my favourite movies and surely one of the great American movies of the 70s, as self-contained as The Godfather is sprawling. It starts with the classic piano beat of Amoreena, a quick shot of Sonny's car tucked in in between dogs and billboards pointing out that for all of the police and drama, today's events are just one moment in the hustle and bustle of New York life, and will be just as quickly forgotten.

I wish I had time to talk more about the amazing sound design. Jesus Christ that awful telephone ring that drills down into your brain like a jackhammer; the clicks and clacks of ordely banking that are disrupted when Sonny makes his move; the pock of tennis balls through the opening tune; the chopper blades and engine that drown out the radio chatter; the hoarse cry of Attica man!; the retort of a shot that sends people screaming and fleeing; the obliterating scream of a jet engine.

I wish I had time to talk about how important queerness is to the plot without being some kind of prop for it, or the portrayal of the media, the greatness of every supporting character from Chris Sarandon and Penelope Allen right on down to the pizza delivery guy, or a thousand other things, including how prettily framed Pacino is in this movie, at the height of his wide-eyed beauty.

I wish I had time to rhapsodise about how precise and efficient and helpful Lumet's direction is, how it lays out the bank and its surrounds for us with clarity and hilarity. This skill seems to be essentially forgotten these days, but Lumet's direction in the bank is a marvel. The bank is a well-organised space that so perfectly set in our mind that a recent episode of Bob's Burgers, of all things, was able to recreate it, triggering instant recognition.

We never go big in the bank. The camera always sits at a natural height. The second we go outside it's all overheads and helicopters, all those barriers and the people that seep through them like molasses, those guns that can only with great effort be reholstered. Oh, the irony of that overkill because you know the smallness of what's going on inside -- two people are falling apart, sure, and that's a big deal, but the situation is so tiny.

Speaking of falling apart --

Without being particularly concerned with psychology or the externalisation of an inner state, without being particularly psychologically complex, Dog Day Afternoon manages to be unusually psychologically coherent and whole. Sonny's characterisation is fully-formed from the first shot. Nothing we learn about him -- except perhaps his sexuality -- is a surprise, and none of his actions are out of character. He doesn't particularly change or grow throughout the film; he just breaks.*

I love how for almost the entire movie Sonny walks around clutching his handkerchief like a blankie, this stained talisman that he thinks will be his protection but is instead signalling surrender.

Dog Day Afternoon is a marvel of embodied, empathic performances. Right from the first time you see them you see and feel their hearts racing, their breath heaving, their queasy stomachs. Lumet is wise to let the camera sit on Cazale and Pacino for those long takes in the first half of the movie, as they still have a hope of keeping the situation under control even as their bodies are screaming run!

I love this, one of the greatest two-shots in the movies, with its soft dialogue, pathetic, awful humor, Sonny's inevitable "I'm gonna take care of it," hemmed in between the bank and the rifle.

In the first half of the movie, things go logistically, physically wrong, and Lumet's camera works to keep track of it all, sitting back in wide shots and two-shots, letting the light come in. In the second half of the movie, night comes in, the lights go out, and things start to go emotionally wrong. Shit starts to get real.

My Best Shot, then, is for me the synechdoche of the movie, the iconic moment, and the moment that when I watched this when I was younger seemed to contain something revelatory about acting and feeling. Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon is still in my top 10 performances of all time.

At the pivot point between the first and second halves of Dog Day Afternoon, Sonny has endures two phone calls, ten long minutes in real time of rejection, disappointment, denial and shrill demands. This is not the first close-up of the movie but it's the first significant one, and Lumet pushes right in so we don't miss a thing. Sonny, who's pretty smart, but whose smarts get subsumed by an overwhelming need to be The Guy Who Takes Care of Things, just, for a moment, loses it and gives in to despair.

My best shot is the shot where you see Sonny/Pacino's heart break.

This shot is notoriously the result of Pacino giving everything he has in a long, emotional take, ending up almost shellshocked, only to hear Lumet tell him to go again. It's the face of someone looking inside and realising there's nothing left to give. Lucky for Lumet and us, that's precisely what Sonny's feeling too. It's almost an exercise in sadism to watch it; to get so much joy from such pain and despair; it's the paradox of cinema at its purest.

Runners up: I just love this hilarious and terrifying shot of Moretti making himself known, as Lumet eliminates the street for once and brings the chaos of the barber shop right in to the chaos of the bank.

* and maybe not even permanently. If there's anything we know about Sonny, it's that he can rally, can try to carry himself through to the next moment.

Check out more entries in the series here.


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